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Virginia Tech News / Articles / 2015 / 11 

Open letter to faculty from Provost Thanassis Rikakis

November 12, 2015

The following is an open letter to faculty from Executive Vice President and Provost Thanassis Rikakis:

President Timothy D. Sands challenged the university community to engage in a visioning process to support two interrelated goals: advancing Virginia Tech as a global land-grant institution, and strategically addressing the challenges and opportunities presented by the changing landscape of higher education. I am writing to provide additional information about how faculty can be involved with Beyond Boundaries, and more specifically about the Destination Areas project of the Beyond Boundaries initiative.

We are fortunate to be building on a strong Virginia Tech foundation of excellence in teaching and research. While we continue to teach our students and provide enhanced learning experiences for them, we can strategically move forward to pilot a new vision for educating the next generation of leaders and doers for the new economies. We must continue to do what we do well and commit to build on that foundation as we move forward.

President Sands and I need you to become engaged. We cannot succeed without your involvement in defining and developing the destination areas. The deans are leading ongoing conversations within each college and we are scheduling a series a larger conversations where you can be involved with this important initiative. I challenge you to look for how you see yourself and your students in the proposed destination areas. We need you to influence how we define these proposed areas--they have not been finalized. Please work with your colleagues and your dean to help us with this planning. Faculty members are encouraged to propose changes and new ideas for the pilot and over time will be asked to suggest new destination areas for consideration.

Please plan to join us, online or in person, at the upcoming forums where we will have a chance to discuss together how to define these areas.

Town Hall meetings at the Graduate Life Center Multipurpose Room open to all faculty in the next three weeks:

  • Noon on Friday, November 20, 2015
  • Noon on Friday, December 4, 2015

Faculty will be able to participate virtually. We will share more detailed information early next week through email and online at the Beyond Boundaries site.

Additionally, Dennis Dean, Interim Vice President for Research and Innovation, and Rachel Holloway, Vice Provost for Undergraduate Academic Affairs, will hold two workshops for associate deans and department heads/chairs who are interested in participating in the destination areas information gathering process. Information about these workshops will also be announced next week.

On December 2, President Tim Sands, Vice President Dwight Shelton, and I will be meeting with the Department Heads Council. This meeting will provide department leaders with an additional opportunity to learn more about the destination areas process, ask questions, and provide input. Please give your input to your department head/chair prior to this meeting to strengthen the conversation.

Creating a pilot program for destination areas is happening on an accelerated schedule. There is urgency inside the competitive higher education environment. We must move quickly to take the lead and set the pace for others to follow. We will identify key cross-university differentiating themes that can be launched soon or grown across the next few years. This approach will allow the creation of large scale partnerships focused on current and important problems that can help secure significant external support. Many of the extramural funding opportunities available, both in research and in advancement, require large, problem-based, interdisciplinary efforts. The rapid launch of a small set of destination areas will also enrich our curriculum and help us attract students interested in excelling in a discipline and connecting their expertise to large scale collaborative problem solving.

We are creating this pilot on a firm academic foundation. While we pursue continuous innovation as a characteristic component of Virginia Tech, we will continue to support the excellent disciplinary and interdisciplinary activity happening across the university. For the pilot, only a modest part of our internal resources will be directed to destination areas and other innovation projects. We will rely significantly on external support for growing the immediate and future destination areas, thus allowing us to maintain our current strengths while developing new ones.

It is also important to note that all destination areas must be comprehensive, allowing faculty from all disciplines to participate in these innovative research and education efforts based on their distinctive interests and expertise. This is an exciting time and with your engagement we will define a set of destination areas that will evolve over time and further define excellence.

The Beyond Boundaries initiative will be a continuous innovation process that will allow for "bottom up" input to keep Virginia Tech evolving and succeeding. The short term goals of Beyond Boundaries will be achieved through an accelerated process to identify a first set of cross-university destination areas. The long term process will be guided by the visioning scenarios being developed by the Beyond Boundaries committees and will be materialized through the piloting of ideas submitted by the faculty through the Beyond Boundaries innovation incubator that will be launched in April.

Please engage in this process. Participate in a forum. Share your input about the proposed ideas. Contribute to the Beyond Boundaries planning initiatives that will guide the future of Virginia Tech.

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